Expert Advice: How to Succeed in (the Food) Business

Text by Kassandra Bucher

To save costs, optimize resources, and tackle the food problem all at the same time, innovation a la the Silicon Valley is needed in the food industry. For example, MintScraps is an online waste-tracking platform for restaurants and supermarkets that makes it easy to measure excess, see savings, and divert or donate surplus. What if this kind of thing went global?

This is but one of many insights provided in Birgit Coleman’s new book, Food Industry Design, Technology and Innovation, published November 17, 2014, by Wiley-Blackwell.

Coleman is a Connections Explorer at swissnex San Francisco and she co-authored the book with Helmut Traitler, a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry and former VP of Innovation Partnerships at Nestlé, and Karen Hofmann, a Product Designer.

Coleman and Traitler’s collaborations have deep roots. They used to work together to foresee industry shifts and opportunities for Nestlé, a nutrition, health, and wellness giant.

“We are old friends and both Austrian, so we both like to talk, to eat, and to have a good glass of wine,” Coleman says.

Innovation—Key to Food Success

Design impacts our food supply more and more all the time, the book posits. There is a long history of design in food products, but until recently much of the focus has been mainly on packaging (logos, fonts, and colors). Surely there’s room for innovation.

In medicine, automobiles, home appliances, and a host of other fields, design drives innovation. Why shouldn’t it be that way for food and food systems?

The authors argue that, nowadays, design thinking is becoming central to how companies compete. To succeed, the food industry needs to understand consumers and envision what they want (just look up Good Eggs, the Etsy for locovores), and use technology and systems like Mintscraps to deliver.

Also important is understanding how organizations function at the most basic level. This knowledge is crucial for anyone attempting to make change. As the book emphasizes, design, technology, and business must go hand in hand in order to drive valuable innovation in complex organizations.

In this, the first book that really emphasizes design and its role in defining and executing business strategies and business processes, Coleman and her co-authors say that designers should have active and decisive roles at companies in the food industry, even at the executive board level.

Second Helping

“The most challenging part was to make the book a timeless adviser, because this book is about innovation and gives real-life examples,” Coleman says of writing the book. “But I think we did a really good job and although the examples might be a little out of date in a few years, the general lessons about the food sector will still be up to date.”

Food Industry Design, Technology and Innovation is the first book in a series. The second, The Food Industry Innovation School: Driving Innovation through Complex Organizations, is already in production and a third is in planning stages. Coleman is already signed on to co-author that one.

So if you work in the food industry and would like to learn how to lead your company to success, this book could be the perfect first course.

Read Helmut Traitler’s Thought for Food on our blog, nextrends. And find out more about how Nestlé and swissnex San Francisco worked together to scout the future of food.